Have you ever found that music can lift your spirits and make you feel hopeful despite challenging circumstances? Music is a wonderful gift of God that has the potential to touch hearts and minds in powerful ways, and the Salesians in Yaoundé, Cameroon, recognise this.
Cameroon is part of the Salesian Province ATE (Afrique Tropicale Equatoriale), along with Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. The Province has fourteen Salesian communities, four of which are based in Cameroon.
One of these communities, the Saint Augustine Theologate in Yaoundé, is situated in an area with large numbers of young people. They run a youth centre which is very popular among these young people: the Don Bosco de Nkol’Afémé Oratory-Youth Centre. Political instability in the west of the country has caused the population of this area to grow considerably, due to migration, and so the number of young people attending the centre continues to increase. When the centre opens its doors on Saturdays and Sundays, it usually welcomes 400 to 500 children and young people! It is the only place in the area that allows young people to entertain themselves and to develop physically, culturally, and spiritually. The Don Bosco Centre aims to provide a place of welcome for young people, a positive environment that supports spiritual, intellectual, and social growth.
In order to do so, there are various activities available for the young people:
- Sport (football, basketball, and volleyball)
- Music (piano, guitar, drums, brass band)
- Culture (dance, art)
- Board Games (Ludo, Checkers, Table Football, Awale, etc.)
However, there is a noticeable lack of musical equipment. The young people love music: for them, it’s a way of expressing themselves which brings them great joy. To facilitate this, the centre needs musical instruments. There is also a need for musical training, so that the students can learn how to play different instruments. In addition to being a great learning opportunity for the young people, this development of the musical activities would contribute to the wider life of the youth centre, as the musical equipment and instruments would be used for events which gather young people from the local area.
Through music and all the other activities, the centre seeks to teach these young people to develop through being with each other. Music is an area that many of the young people are particularly passionate about, and so helping them to develop their musical talents is a major priority. There are about 80 young people currently involved in music at the centre, supervised by a team of five animators, and it would be wonderful to see them thrive, with the right equipment to achieve their full musical potential.
You may be wondering what good this would really do, but have you ever looked at any of the research on the benefits of learning a musical instrument? The list is quite extensive! It stimulates the brain and increases the capacity of the memory, as well as sharpening the concentration. It has also been shown that learning an instrument helps to develop mathematical ability, due to the need to calculate note lengths and rhythms as you play. Reading and comprehension skills can also be improved by learning to read music.
There are other benefits to learning an instrument which are less measurable, but no less important. For example, the time and effort required teaches patience and discipline. There are times when practising is frustrating and difficult, but those who keep going learn the value of perseverance. Also, as you progress in learning, the sense of achievement can be a huge boost for confidence and self-esteem. Playing music can also relieve stress and anxiety, as well as bringing joy both to the musician and those around them!
In addition, music can help people to enhance their social skills and develop new friendships. Being a member of an orchestra or band, or even doing a duet with just one other person, provides opportunities to improve team skills, as the musicians need to listen to each other and work together.
From a faith perspective too, playing an instrument is a gift that can be shared in beautiful ways through worship. Psalm 150 encourages us to praise God with a variety of instruments: trumpet, harp, lyre, tambourine, stringed instruments, flute, and cymbals (v3-5). Similarly, Psalm 98:4 exhorts us: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music”.
What a blessing, to be part of bringing this incredible gift of music to young people in Cameroon!
by Silvère François Zinsou Gbemenou SDB